How to Write the University of Notre Dame Essays 2023-2024
The University of Notre Dame has two sets of supplemental essay prompts, with each set having multiple options to choose from. The prompts themselves are short, but you’re required to answer two out of three options for Prompt 1, and three out of five options for Prompt 2. As such, it’s important to carefully consider which prompts you choose to respond to, and to be wary of answering prompts that may have too much overlap.
Read these University of Notre Dame essay examples to inspire your writing.
University of Notre Dame Essay Prompts
Prompt 1: Please choose two questions from the options below. Your brief essay response to each question should be no more than 150 words.
Option A: Notre Dame fosters an undergraduate experience dedicated to the intellectual, moral, and spiritual development of each individual, characterized by a collective sense of care for every person. How do you foster service to others in your community?
Option B: What is distinctive about your personal experiences and development (eg, family support, culture, disability, personal background, community, etc)? Why are these experiences important to you and how will you enrich the Notre Dame community?
Option C: Describe a time when you advocated for something you believed in and influenced others through thoughtful discourse to promote a deeper understanding of a difficult situation.
Prompt 2: Please choose three questions from the options below. Your response to each short-answer question should be no more than 50 words.
Option A: Everyone has different priorities when considering their higher education options and building their college or university list. Tell us about your “non-negotiable” factor(s) when searching for your future college home.
Option B: What brings you joy?
Option C: What is worth fighting for?
Option D: What is something that genuinely interests you, and how does this tie to the academic area you hope to study at Notre Dame?
Option E: How does faith influence the decisions you make?
Prompt 1, Option A
Notre Dame fosters an undergraduate experience dedicated to the intellectual, moral, and spiritual development of each individual, characterized by a collective sense of care for every person. How do you foster service to others in your community?
This is a pretty straightforward community service essay. You’re being asked to showcase the ways in which you’ll contribute to the overall campus community at Notre Dame. It’s important to note that this isn’t an essay about what communities you’ve been a part of in the past—instead, you should discuss how you’ve been an active service member in your community in the past or present.
Brainstorming your topic:
The best route to follow when answering this prompt is to reflect on past experiences you’ve had with community service, and relate them to what the prompt says about Notre Dame as a whole. The answer for the prompt is practically laid out in the phrasing—right off the bat, the prompt tells us that Notre Dame is a school where the individual is characterized by the community.
The school is portrayed as a place where no one is left behind, and everyone looks out for one another. So in order to respond successfully to this prompt, try to dissect how your past experiences may prove to be an example of this philosophy.
As with other similar community service essay prompts, it’s always better to write about a long-term commitment than something you’ve only done once or twice. While volunteering at a soup kitchen with classmates for a night is undoubtedly a good act of service to the community, it doesn’t reveal anything extraordinary about you or your passion for community service.
There’s a general rule of thumb for supplemental essays—the more specific you can be, the more unique you’ll sound. Really highlight the experiences you’ve had that say the most about who you are; the essay is less about what you did, and more about why you did it.
Your chosen experience should also be something that changed your perspectives or preconceived notions. Perhaps you realized the importance of rescuing animals from your time spent volunteering at the animal shelter, or maybe you developed more patience and empathy when working with children with special needs or disabilities. Whatever you choose to write about, it should highlight a passion or perspective of yours that you feel is important to your identity.
Tips for writing your essay:
With only 150 words to work with, it’s essential that you make your point strong so that it sticks with your reader. A great way to do this is to weave your actions, motivations, and perspectives into a vivid, relevant anecdote. This strategy gives you the chance to hook the reader right away and put them in your shoes. Write about what you saw, heard, or felt while volunteering or doing your act of community service. You might do this using the present tense for effect.
For example, writing “Last Christmas, I drove around town to collect gifts for underprivileged families who otherwise couldn’t afford to give presents.” doesn’t say anything about you, your perspective, or the impact the act had on you.
Instead, try “As the hours ticked by and snow began piling on the street, I pushed my foot harder on the gas. Today was the last day I had to pick up donations for kids who would otherwise not be receiving Christmas gifts, and I was going to get to as many as I could.” Not only does this paint a far more vivid picture of what the experience meant to you, but it shows your genuine passion and care for the act itself.
Once you’ve written about what you did, it’s time to connect your response to the ways in which you’ll take your experience and passion to Notre Dame. In the final few sentences of your response, write about what community service means to you overall, and why you’ll continue your efforts, both on and off campus at Notre Dame.
Community service can be as simple as lending a helping hand when needed, whether that be to a classmate, a friend, or someone in the broader community. You can write about forming or joining study groups, your desire to find community service opportunities at Notre Dame, or even how you hope to gain and listen to new perspectives both inside and outside of the classroom. Keep it short and sweet, and most importantly, keep it genuine!
Mistakes to avoid:
Besides keeping your response short, the biggest pitfall to avoid is having a pretentious or privileged tone. If your response makes it seem like you’re painting yourself as some kind of savior, embellishing your efforts, or looking down on those you helped, it will leave a sour taste.
It’s important to truly reflect on what community service means, not only to you, but to others. Even if you did a truly good thing for someone who needed it, make sure you maintain a balanced tone in your essay that doesn’t sound like excessive self-praise.
Prompt 1, Option B
What is distinctive about your personal experiences and development (eg, family support, culture, disability, personal background, community, etc)? Why are these experiences important to you and how will you enrich the Notre Dame community?
This is a standard diversity essay in which you’re being asked to elaborate on some aspect of your identity. However, the main purpose of this prompt is not just for Notre Dame to understand the communities that have been essential in shaping your identity, but also to get some idea of how your experiences in your chosen community will translate to your future as a Notre Dame student.
Brainstorming your topic:
Remember that diversity encompasses several disparate aspects. It can include an ethnicity/race, country of origin, language, gender or sexual identity, geographical location, income class, disability or illness, personality trait, extracurricular interest, or something else entirely!
An aspect of diversity might also be something that taught you or inspired your passions, something that you were born into, or something you’re just now learning that you’re a part of. Basically, the chosen aspect of your diversity just needs to represent a part of yourself that is infallibly true.
We recommend focusing on just one aspect of identity to write about. While there may be several communities or groups you feel are a core part of your identity, 150 words will not be enough space to write about them all equally. However, if you do feel that one community is not enough to represent who you are, see if there’s a common thread between the communities you want to mention before diving in.
A quick note if you intend to write about your racial background: In June 2023, the United States Supreme Court struck down the use of affirmative action in college admissions. The ruling, however, still allows colleges to consider race on an individual basis, which is one reason many schools are now including diversity prompts as one of their supplemental essay prompts. If you feel that your racial background has impacted you significantly, this is the place to discuss that.
Tips for writing your essay:
Once you’ve chosen the aspect of your identity you want to write about, reflect on the impact that it’s had on your life and begin weaving that into your response. Think about the lessons you’ve learned along the way, the people you’ve met, and the experiences you’ve shared with them, or even perhaps the experiences they’ve shared with you. Also consider how being a part of this chosen community has impacted your goals and hopes for the future.
The part of your identity you’ve chosen to write about will have hopefully left all these impressions on you and more—and it will hopefully just be a matter of condensing your response to 150 words. It’s important to showcase your passion for and genuine investment in the part of your identity you write about, but make sure to keep it short and sweet.
Don’t feel like you have to embellish your diversity either. Remember that diversity can be defined as practically anything that makes up your identity—it doesn’t necessarily have to be something that has changed the course of your life. Take this example:
“Ever since I was a little kid, stories have run rampant in my mind. I would make up stories in the car, in the shower, when I would close my eyes to go to sleep. They’d play out like movies in my head, and I got overwhelmed by not knowing what to do with them, so I turned against myself and wished that I would stop. That’s when I found the Creative Writing Club at my school.
Finding other people who shared the same inherent reflex I did not only made me feel normal again but made me feel accepted. I found that my habits were not unhealthy, but inspired. I suddenly found an outlet for 16 years’ worth of pent-up ideas and creativity. I had people to share my stories with, but more importantly, I was a person with whom they could share theirs. Swapping stories became a way for us to learn about different perspectives, cultures, and identities, and in doing so, it has made us all more worldly and empathetic.”
Prompt 1, Option C
Describe a time when you advocated for something you believed in and influenced others through thoughtful discourse to promote a deeper understanding of a difficult situation.
This is a more unconventional prompt (similar to the political/global issues prompt) that will require you to reflect on the issues and topics you truly believe in and on the things you’ve done to advocate for them.
This can be a particularly challenging response, made no easier by the small word count you’re allotted to elaborate on your chosen cause. However, there are many routes you can take to condense your response and deliver it in a neat and engaging way.
Brainstorming your topic:
It’s natural for your first instinct to be to think of a hot-button political issue, and while this can be a great framing device for a response, it’s important to note a distinction in this prompt—it’s not asking for what you believe in, but rather what you did to advocate for what you believe in. As such, it’s imperative that you avoid spending too many of your 150 words trying to convince the admissions officer to back your chosen cause.
As with any kind of political discussion, you may need to dial it back a little and understand that you won’t know who is reading your application—the admissions officer may very well not agree with your political beliefs or standpoints. While the admissions officer will most likely have been trained to approach all applications with minimized bias, he or she is still only human.
If you choose to respond to this prompt and discuss a political topic, you must demonstrate that you advocated for your belief respectfully, including the ways in which you engaged with someone who disagreed with you.
Of course, political or social activism is a great starting point to answer this prompt. If you’ve engaged in a protest, debate, or some other event surrounding a cause you believe in, reflect on why you chose to engage with it in your free time. What about the cause is important to you? How did it make you feel to engage civically with your cause? How do you hope to change perspectives and minds in the future?
Asking yourself these questions is a great exercise in an activity that Notre Dame (and any other college you might attend) will challenge you to do anyway—exposing yourself to new perspectives and ideas and using them to develop your own. Showcasing your understanding of that practice in this response can be a great way to distinguish yourself.
Your chosen cause can extend beyond just politics or social justice as well. Perhaps your school canceled its men’s volleyball program, and you and your teammates lost an extracurricular. You could write about how you petitioned the school to bring it back and promised to rally fans for the games. Or maybe you had to fundraise for the theater program in order to put on the best show possible, even showing up at a school board meeting to ask for more funding.
Tips for writing your essay:
Once you’ve chosen a topic, you can move on to framing your essay. Remember that this prompt wants you to talk about your thought process, the discourse you shared with others surrounding your chosen issue, and the ways in which that discourse promoted deeper understanding on both sides. The primary thread throughout this prompt is diplomacy, and understanding how diplomacy can lead to success and progress is a great start to writing your essay.
Rather than sounding like you’re regurgitating talking points, reflect on why your advocacy was either successful or unsuccessful. Let’s look at this scenario—perhaps you rallied classmates to walk out in support of gun control, and the school administration responded harshly. Here are two different approaches you could take in writing about the issue:
“I feel that guns do not belong in schools. In my junior year, I unfortunately found that the school administration clearly felt otherwise. As part of a committee to organize a class walkout in support of gun control, we were met with animosity and a lack of empathy from our principal and school board. We were called in for a discourse but soon found ourselves in a full-on trial. While I wasn’t personally deterred by what we faced, it was a reminder that there is much work to be done in support of this cause.”
In this response, the student writes about facing an insurmountable challenge and being forced to accept the circumstances and hardships that come with supporting a cause. While there is nothing fundamentally wrong with what the student is trying to say, they are approaching it from the wrong angle. Let’s try another response, written about the same situation:
“There is no question that the issue of gun control, specifically in schools, is one of the most contentious debates in our country right now. As a student, I, along with a few of my classmates, felt that it was necessary to let the school board hear our thoughts. While we hoped to stage a walkout in support of gun control, our principal and other faculty members shut the idea down.
We scheduled a meeting and debated our points, advocating for awareness and a media presence to further our cause so we could make a change. While we were not successful in our endeavors, we left feeling more united than ever, and even more committed to making change than we had been before. Learning that we can’t change everyone’s mind is part of the process, as is accepting that and focusing on what we can control.”
This response takes a much more methodical and contained approach. Its effectiveness lies in its levelheadedness. Ending the response with a reminder, both to yourself and the reader, that the power of discourse is not to be abandoned even in the face of unsuccessful endeavors, is an important way to show maturity and understanding.
Mistakes to avoid:
This was stated above, but it’s worth repeating—admissions officers are only human. Though they are trained to minimize bias when reading applications, they still have personal beliefs and perspectives.
If you must write about a politicized issue, which is reasonable with a prompt like this since you don’t want to write a trivial response, tread carefully. Express your belief in a respectful way without coming off as condescending or trying to force that view on your reader.
A Quick Note About Prompt 2:
The main thing to note about Prompt 2 is its very small word limit. Rather than having 150 words like you do for Prompt 1, you’re only allotted 50 words for each of your responses to Prompt 2. However, these prompts are generally personality questions, so have fun with the few sentences you do have!
Prompt 2, Option A
Everyone has different priorities when considering their higher education options and building their college or university list. Tell us about your “non-negotiable” factor(s) when searching for your future college home.
This is a sneaky “Why This College?” prompt—Notre Dame admissions officers want to see that your college priorities align with their offerings. Don’t worry too much about researching the exact resources you hope to engage with at Notre Dame though, as this is a hypothetical question and should be treated as such.
Besides directly answering the “Why this college?” question, the best way to respond to this prompt is to demonstrate what attending college (particularly Notre Dame) means to you. College is unlike any other learning environment you’ve encountered before. Whether you’ve taken summer classes at local colleges or are entering a college academic setting for the first time, college will be full of new experiences—both good and bad, but mostly challenging and extremely rewarding.
Reflect on what you hope to gain from attending college. Are you excited to embark on a new chapter of your life? Do you know what you want to study? Are you excited to dive headfirst into your passion? Do you want to expand your horizons and introduce yourself to new perspectives? Some of the above? Something else entirely? There are so many ways to answer this prompt, but the best one will be the one that is most truthful.
Perhaps you’re a first-generation college student and going to college means more than just another step in your education. You could write about the impact it’ll have on you and your family, the pressure that comes with it, and also the excitement and importance of pursuing higher education. Whatever angle you choose, tie that angle into what you hope college will offer you.
Continuing the first-generation college student example, something you might want to highlight is your hope of finding a community that values each and every student, regardless of family or economic background, and a community that has resources for first-generation students to transition into the college experience.
Again, you only have 50 words, so while specificity is important, it may be a tough rope to walk! Keep your response short and close to what matters to you most.
Prompt 2, Option B
What brings you joy?
If this feels like a broad question, that’s because it absolutely is. It’s also one of the best questions to show the admissions officer what matters to you most, display a new aspect of your personality, and write about something unconventional. Obviously, there’s a nearly endless number of answers to this question, but that doesn’t mean that all the possible answers are strong.
While most mistakes to avoid with this prompt may feel like common sense, don’t immediately rule out answers that feel arbitrary or even immaterial. Obviously, writing that video games are what gives you joy probably won’t give the admissions officer any valuable information about yourself; however, that fact is not because of your subject matter, but rather due to your execution.
For example, if you write “My favorite thing to do in my free time is play video games. I love playing online and feeling competitive, but I also find joy in just playing alone and getting lost in new and exciting worlds,” the admissions officer won’t have a whole lot to work with.
Instead, brainstorm for this prompt and reflect on the reasons for which the thing that brings you joy really makes you happy. Using the same example, consider this version:
“Working alongside attending school can be nightmarish, but coming home and hosting my video game server keeps me grounded. Being directly responsible for fostering a positive community of dozens of people who don’t know each other in real life is a special feeling that gives me a sense of purpose.”
This answer succeeds not only in telling an engaging story in just two sentences, but also in expanding on the answer to the prompt by showcasing a particular activity in which the student has a positive, meaningful role. By making the response about a greater sense of purpose or belonging—more than just a singular idea or thing—the student showcases something special about himself that makes him stand out.
Prompt 2, Option C
What is worth fighting for?
This is another relatively profound question that you’re tasked with answering within 50 words, but your answer can be very revealing and insightful—you can discuss your hopes, goals, beliefs, values, and more. This is a great opportunity to showcase your priorities and how the first 18 or so years of your life have shaped your current perspectives.
Profound questions often elicit profound answers, and while this would be the place to share if you have a powerful and moving insight about life, by no means does your answer need to be some extreme revelation. It just has to be you.
Writing something authentic and personal will have a far greater impact than trying to overextend yourself and claim something bold like “humanity is worth fighting for.” That’s not to say that you can’t go that route, but it will take a lot more elaboration than you have space for in this response.
The nature of this prompt and the limited word count you have to work with means you’re going to have to think outside the box. Most of the answers you might think of quickly are likely too clichéd to make for a strong response—this includes things like fighting for love, family, the truth, change, etc. These statements are all arguably true, but they’re somewhat played out and won’t contribute to an impressive response that resonates with your reader.
Instead of using one of those, try to explore more specific niche things you truly value and think about why they’re important to you personally. For instance, perhaps your family comes from a culture with a language that doesn’t have too many native speakers remaining. You might therefore argue that the preservation of linguistic history is worth fighting for. You could write a response like the following:
“My Spanish grandparents speak Basque, which they’ve been trying to teach me. I love how Basque looks, sounds, and feels so different from other languages. Sadly, Basque has fewer than a million speakers. Considering all the languages that have been lost to time, preserving linguistic history is worth fighting for.”
No matter what your actual answer is, it’s essential that you weave a personal voice and connection to the topic into your response. With only a few sentences to work with, you might consider leading with a personal anecdote, then transitioning to the ways in which the topic is meaningful to you, as in the example above.
Prompt 2, Option D
What is something that genuinely interests you, and how does this tie to the academic area you hope to study at Notre Dame?
This is a pretty straightforward prompt and should be an easier one to decide on an answer for, regardless of whether or not you know exactly what you want to major in. Notre Dame simply wants to get a better sense of an interest of yours, and how it ties to your interest in studying a topic at Notre Dame. Something important to note is that the interest you discuss doesn’t have to be directly related to your potential major, but more on that later.
Whether you feel like you have a unique interest or not, it’s easy to make your answer interesting if you’re able to make it personal. This is an especially good idea if your interest isn’t directly related to your desired major. If the connection between your interest and your area of study can’t be readily seen, you’ll want to explain how the two are connected.
For example, say you’re really interested in foraging and are planning to study math at whichever college you attend. While at first blush these two things may seem totally unrelated, you might explain the link between your interests like this:
“For years I have enjoyed foraging in the forest a few miles from my home. I love seeing beautiful geometric patterns in nature. Admiring the golden ratio in flowers and fractals in fern leaves is something I’ve long appreciated so much that I now want to major in math!”
This example response is vivid, passionate, and personal, and it’s about two seemingly completely unrelated topics. Try to think about ways you might link a niche interest you have to an academic subject you might want to pursue (even if you don’t know what you want to major in yet).
For instance, you might connect your songwriting interest to the Neuroscience and Behavior major because you’re interested in seeing how certain melodies can elicit such specific feelings. Or, maybe you paint as a hobby and you think that your intended biology major might help inform the ways in which you can depict human and animal bodies. Try to be creative when thinking about how a hobby/interest of yours might relate to the academic field you’re into!
Only having to write 50 words for your response will give you the chance to experiment with different styles and formats, so don’t be afraid to write and examine some drafts to find the right balance.
Prompt 2, Option E
How does faith influence the decisions you make?
This question asks you to reflect on your faith and its impact on your behavior and decision-making. It’s important to recognize that Notre Dame is a Catholic university, and was founded on Catholic beliefs and principles. However, it’s by no means just a Catholic school—it is open to students of all spiritual and religious backgrounds. So while about 80% of students at Notre Dame practice some form of Catholicism, there is plenty of space for students of other faiths to feel comfortable at Notre Dame.
Therefore, don’t feel like you can’t answer this prompt if you’re applying to Notre Dame as a member of another faith. “Faith” simply just refers to your religious background—and can even be extended to a more secular trust in something—so if your background has shaped or influenced your decisions, this is still a great prompt to answer.
However, if you’re not religious and you are applying to Notre Dame, consider answering another prompt instead. Not choosing to answer this prompt has no impact on your admission decision, Notre Dame is just giving students who have a special relationship with their faith a space to elaborate on what it means to them.
With all that being said, if you’re a Catholic student choosing to answer this prompt, it’s important to reflect not only on what your faith means to you now, but also on what that faith might mean to you at Notre Dame.
At Notre Dame, faith is directly tied to service learning and helping others in need, with more than 80% of students participating in service or service learning before they graduate. Perhaps you were part of a Catholic youth group over the course of your life—consider writing about the volunteer opportunities that you embarked on and how those experiences shaped your perspectives.
The prompt is specifically asking you to elaborate on how faith has shaped the decisions you make, so be sure to tie those experiences and perspectives to how you approach each day and each new obstacle.
If you are a member of a different faith, this is a great opportunity to shed some light on how your background has shaped you. Are there any cultural traditions or principles that you follow? Were there any obstacles or challenges to your faith you’ve faced along the way? Ask yourself these questions and more, and treat your faith as another aspect of your identity that has shaped who you are. In doing so, you should be able to see how you may fit in at Notre Dame and contribute to the principles of community service, generosity, and kindness.
Where to Get Your Notre Dame Essays Edited
Do you want feedback on your Notre Dame essays? After rereading your essays countless times, it might become difficult to see where your writing can be improved. That’s why we created our free Peer Essay Review tool, where you can get a free review of your essay from another student. You can also improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays.
If you want a college admissions expert to review your essay, advisors on CollegeVine have helped students refine their writing and submit successful applications to top schools. Find the right advisor for you to improve your chances of getting into your dream school!